Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hello Panfish!

Something about these pint-sized fin slappers makes me go nuts. As soon as I see a large school of gills or sunnies my bassin’ game flies right out the window. The strength of my addiction may come from the number of fish that occupy the shallows or edges of the weed-villa this time of year.

(Above: Fatty sunfish hybrid with dark green colors with yellow highlights. When bluegill and sunfish are put together, hybridization is common. Almost a supa’ pan but a far cry from a Mondo-gill.)

For me the real the trick is finding the large brooder sized panfish as opposed to the plethora of snack-sized gills that can fill a beachhead in early summer. Occasionally I have to pick through the batch until a larger one grabs the lure. Getting in early on the spawn action can also help. Outside of the spawn, panfish will congregate near structure for protection.

(Above: This is a more typical size of sunny-gill’er that I come across. Not only do these fish offer spectacular colors but they also help make largemouth bass FAT!)

My panfish setup these days is that Abu Garcia rod that I ranted about a few years ago on the website that I never update. Labeled as a 7’ medium-heavy action “Super 7” rod, the tip is more of a wet noodle. Maybe someone put the wrong markings on the handle as this is more of a fast action rod if anything. Throw on some of my standard 6lb line (because I may need this rod for something else or maybe I just expect really big panfish) and rig up with a 1/8 or 1/16oz jig.

Various flies, micro-crankbaits and just about anything super tiny will work. Panfish are very aggressive when grouped up and hit all kinds of presentations. Maybe this is why panfish are such a great way to introduce fishing to beginners looking for near gimme success.

If the fish inspect but do not bite, use the fight or flee concept and move your bait away from the fish when they move in for a closer look and then stop short allowing the fish to catch up. Sometimes that creates a dog chasing a moving car instinct and the fish will hit first, ask questions later. This is a good rule for any predator species and a good rule of thumb for any sight fishing. 

(Above: Had to steal a picture from a previous trip to show something as close to a true bluegill as I can and wouldn’t put money down that this is 100% McGillacutty.)

(Above: You can actually see the teeth on this sunny-giller if you look closely. Just a few years ago this pond was filled with pure sunfish that showed their original speckle pattern. This one is a bit watered down.)

Some pond experts such as Pond Boss and others suggest that bluegills make better bass forage as opposed to sunfish. Sunfish have a larger mouth and can predate on other sport fish longer during the fry stage. Mixing the different types of panfish can lead to hybridization. Hybridization that occurs tends to blur accurate species identification and weaken populations over time in my opinion. Introduction happens naturally so complete purity may be impossible. Not the worst thing that could happen by any means but it does lend a fish rant now and then. If you are building a new pond, chose one type of sunfish and manage it with the same concern applied to sport fish. The result optimally would be 10-inch panfish that would require periodic if not systematic harvesting.

(Above: Another fatty gill photo of the fish above. These fish tend to group together early summer to crank out baby-gills that help plump up the higher end of the food chain.)

The term panfish comes from these fish generally being the perfect size for an eight-inch skillet. Bluegill and sunfish are a tasty fish with flaky white meat similar to perch and crappie. I encourage folks to selectively harvest this fish by removing a large handful of the smaller fish when prevalent. Please leave the large brooder gills and sunnies for next year’s crop while allowing this Mattsabasser the super-pan action that I love so much. If we work together anglers can reach the optimum of more fish for the table and better sport fishing as well. Moderation, self control and a little more skill with a fillet knife is key. Anyone can trim out a large gill but can you do the same to the smaller panfish in the 4 to 6-inch range? Plenty of good eating in this size slot.

Below are a few web references that I use in regards to bluegill and sunfish identification. Generally I look for yellow or orange on the fins, shape of mouth (small for bluegill, large for sunfish) and any red\orange coloring on the gill plate\dot thingy on the side of their head.

My name is Matt and I’m a fishaholic.


Bill Trussell said...

Outstanding gills anyway you look at them. That big hybrid looks like some of the Coppernose famous in Southern Georgia. I know those were a blast on the 7 ft. I never get tired of landing these fish any time of the year. Thanks for sharing a great trip.

The Reverend Fowl ™ said...

Thanks for going straight to the upper echelon of fish and game knowledge by providing the MN link at the bottom.

Ricky Anderson said...

Pan fish are serious fun to catch on ultra light tackle, and taste great when properly cooked. When I take kids fishing, I always try to introduce them to bluegill as a first species to fish for because they are usually plentiful and easy to catch. For me, it is actually more fun to watch kids catching a ton of bluegill then it is for me to catch them.
Great Post.